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Oil on the Brain: Adventures from the Pump to the Pipelineby Lisa Margonelli
Author Q & A
What made you decide to write about oil?
I covered Saddam's birthday party in Iraq in 2001, and it was obvious that the culture, Saddam – everything was enabled by oil. Then I had another assignment from a small [Native American] village in the far north of Alaska that had been protesting development there. They saw themselves as fighting not only oil development but oil culture. I realized how little I knew about oil, yet how much my life was entangled with it. Oil is almost always covered on the business pages, but I wanted to find this other story – the story you wouldn't expect to find.
Oil is such a complex subject; how did you know where to begin?
Once I decided to start at the gas station – with a portrait of consumership – it all made sense. You have to understand why consumers act the way they do, and how they defy textbook economic rationality, to understand the kinds of cartwheels the rest of the system does.
What will it take for us to consume less gas?
Things outside the country are going to cause the price to rise. And the ways we had of keeping prices low are basically falling apart. Inside the country, I don't think the issue is one person driving an SUV. It's a very wide change that needs to happen. Since the 1930s, the government has set out to assure supply. What we really need to do is address demand and limit it in ways that are good for our economy.
Lots of people think high gas prices are a price-gouging conspiracy by big oil companies, but you advocate looking at the big picture. What does that mean?
We're facing big issues that will need complicated solutions. In China, bureaucrats are thinking about the next hundred years, and we've essentially outsourced that planning to the oil companies. So we need to start thinking about how we are going to insulate ourselves against environmental and economic catastrophe. Then, on an existential level, we need to say, "our destiny is essentially in our hands." But to really start making long-term plans and start thinking strategically about how we're going to do this, we need to bring the oil companies to the table.
(Originally published in Publishers Weekly)
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